BALTIMORE (WJZ) — When COVID struck last year, everything at Pimlico Racetrack in Baltimore stopped.

“We shut down our racing operations,” said Ryan Allen, Director of Health & Safety at Maryland’s Jockey Club. That included the racetrack at Laurel Park as well.

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Allen’s team saw the virus spreading quickly among jockeys at other race tracks and quickly got to work so the same wouldn’t happen in Maryland.

“We knew that if we could keep them separated, we had a fighting shot at this and it proved to work,” Allen said.

But that was a tough thing to ask of a jockey’s club when they so often work so closely together.

“You could pretty much say we’re like family,” said jockey, Sheldon Russell.

Allen’s team shut down the Jockey’s locker room, also known as the Jocks Room, at both Pimlico and Laurel, moving the jockeys to larger spaces that were once used for restaurants or gambling.

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Russell showed WJZ the new jockey’s room at Pimlico and said they have more space for them to spread out.

But even then, the virus spread among the club. Russell got it early on in the pandemic.

“We did contract tracing and we were able to determine they weren’t within six feet of each other, so we didn’t have anything to worry about,” said Allen.

And as racing started back up again at Pimlico, the jockeys maintained their distance.

“We’d much rather be in this situation racing everyday then, you know, not racing,” said Russell.

A success story, thanks to safety precautions, now allowing Pimlico to open to fans for Preakness.

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“It’ll be really nice to have these empty seats filled again,” Russell added.

Annie Rose Ramos